Carriers block Samsung’s mobile device ‘kill switch’

Carriers block Samsung’s mobile device ‘kill switch’

According to the FCC one in three robberies involve a smartphone, costing consumers billions of dollars—not to mention the headache of losing data and setting up a new device.

The number makes sense as thieves can get a quick turnaround on them.

Well wireless carriers have, for the time being, ensured that percentage won’t drop by rejecting a ‘kill switch’ feature introduced by Samsung that would render a mobile phone unusable after being initiated.

We all probably know someone who’s lost or had their smartphone stolen and some questions you might ask, after they assure you they’ve looked everywhere is: “Were you able to wipe the phone or was it locked?”

Hopefully they answered yes to one or both of these questions, but what sticks in most people’s craw is that some dude could be using their phone right now.

We’ll put safeguards on our phones like lost device protection or a remote wipe to protect our data, but why let the thieves off the hook so they can sell or reuse the phone themselves?

The FCC, police departments and other groups have been taking notice of the high amount of phone thefts and initiated a database that would track reported lost or stolen phones, by the phones IMEI number. The IMEI number is a unique identifier given to each mobile phone and can be used by carriers to track devices on their networks.

The databases would be created by the different phone carriers and then merged at some point. The idea being when a blacklisted IMEI number attempts to connect or activate on a network it would be blocked. How frequent this database is updated by carriers is unclear.

Samsung’s kill switch feature would be a great additional layer to the IMEI such as blacklisting—bricking the phone so no one can use.


Wireless carriers have rejected the feature on account they feel it creates an additional security hole that could be exploited, like disabling phones to disrupt law enforcement.

According to San Francisco DA George Gascon, this is more about the money generated by consumers participating in phone insurance programs—based on emails exchanged between Samsung and the carriers.

I think it also has to do with some double-dipping by carriers, why not get two service plans for one phone. When a phone winds up in the wrong hands chances are someone will try to activate.

We’ll continue to follow this story, but until Samsung gets their kill switch, please report your lost/stolen device to your carrier and ask them to blacklist your IMEI.

If you haven’t setup lost device protection, to protect your data, please do. Newer versions of Android have its version, Device Manager, and there are plenty available in the Play Store.


Armando Orozco

Senior Malware Intelligence Analyst

Faux geek who likes to keep it bland. Experienced in behavioral, PC, and mobile technologies.